Erika James, dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said the institution had a responsibility to repair its reputation and repair its relationships with donors who accused it of tolerating anti-Semitism.
“I don’t consider my colleagues, for example, within the university to be anti-Semitic, but I realize that many of the activities that are happening now would lead to that impression,” James said at an event organized by the Economic Club of New Zealand. York. “It is our responsibility to repair those relationships.”
Penn has been troubled by growing calls from alumni, including Apollo Global Management President Mark Rowan, to change its leadership in the wake of the university’s response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. The university hosted a Palestinian writers’ festival in September, which featured speakers who some alumni accused of having a history of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“For us, it started before the attacks in the Middle East,” said James, who became the first woman and first Black person to lead the business school in Wharton, Pennsylvania, in 2020. “The most challenging thing for Penn is that it has long been viewed as a school that is very committed to Jewish students.
The Philadelphia school has become embroiled in a larger debate over free speech and anti-Semitism on campus, which has also drawn the wrath of Harvard, Stanford and Cornell universities. Rowan led a campaign calling for Penn State President Liz Magill and Board President Scott Book to step down. Rawan also urged fellow donors to withhold financial support unless there is a change in leadership.
Magill said in a letter Monday that a small number of Penn State employees received “vile and disturbing anti-Semitic emails” that threatened violence against members of the school’s Jewish community. She added that university police have notified the FBI of “this potential hate crime,” and a joint investigation is underway.
James said the school has prioritized the safety of students, faculty and staff and is working with campus police. Within her district, at Wharton, James also addresses reputational damage.
“It is our responsibility to address donor backlash,” she said.